Enhanced benefits for HS2 residents

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An improved compensation and assistance package for property owners close to the route of the HS2 high-speed rail line has been published by the Government.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he “completely understood” the anxieties of those nearest the line and promised the Government would do all it could to help.

He also announced that HS2 Ltd would be appointing an independent Residents’ Commissioner to hold the company to account in its handling of applications as the various schemes get under way and to ensure it meets the standards to be set out in a new Residents’ Charter.

But HS2 opposition group HS2 Action Alliance (HS2AA) said that nearly 240,000 homes within one kilometre of the proposed line were impacted by HS2 and are likely to suffer losses and that “almost all are ineligible for compensation under the current policy”.

Today’s measures apply to people living along the route of phase one - from London to Birmingham - of the £50 billion HS2 scheme which cuts through Tory heartlands and is fiercely supported by some and bitterly opposed by others.

Some elements of the improved package will be available from today and others following a further short consultation later this year.

The Government said that from today:

* an Express Purchase scheme is being launched for owner-occupiers of properties closest to the line, in the area known as the “surface safeguarded area” (generally within 60 metres of the proposed line).

Under this scheme, the Government could buy properties at the full unblighted market value, plus 10% (up to £47,000) and reasonable moving expenses, including stamp duty. The scheme is designed to be quick, clear and as straightforward as possible to make it easier for owner-occupiers to sell their property to the Government, if they wish to do so;

* A rent-back option will also be available from today, which will mean that those people who want to sell their properties (under any of the schemes being announced) but carry on living where they are may be able to do so;

* The Exceptional Hardship scheme will also continue to be available for those who have an urgent need to sell their home but are unable to do so because of HS2.

The Government has already bought 114 properties at a cost of around £67 million from owner-occupiers living near the route. This is under the discretionary Exceptional Hardship Scheme for people with a pressing need to sell.

Following the further short consultation, the Government also intends to introduce a Voluntary Purchase scheme by the end of this year for owner-occupiers in rural areas outside the safeguarded area and up to 120 metres away from the line. Eligible owner-occupiers would be able to apply to sell their property for its full unblighted market value.

Alternatively, if these owner-occupiers do not want to move, they can await the outcome of the further consultation to begin later this year on a cash payment of 10% of the value of their home (from a proposed minimum of £30,000 to a maximum of £100,000).

Following the further consultation, the Government also intends to introduce a Need to Sell scheme and consider applications to buy properties at full unblighted market value from owner-occupiers who have a compelling need to sell, such as job relocation or ill health, but who are unable to do so because of plans to build HS2.

This scheme does not have a boundary. The Government hopes to have this scheme available in urban and rural areas by the end of 2014 when it will replace the exceptional hardship scheme.

Beyond this compensation package the Government will consult on a Homeowner Payment scheme which would entitle owner-occupiers to a cash payment if they live between 120 metres and 300 metres from the line in rural areas.

This could enable people in these areas to share in the benefits of HS2 as it will run near them but would not provide them with a direct benefit.

The payments could be from £7,500 to £22,500, depending on how close the route is to the property. This would come into effect following Parliamentary approval of the HS2 route between London and the Midlands.

Mr McLoughlin said: “I completely understand the concerns and anxieties of those living near the line and it is only right that those people are properly looked after.

“I believe this package of compensation and assistance will enable us to help people more. But I want to get it absolutely right, so I am asking for further views on some aspects before we finalise the plans.

“HS2 will transform many people’s lives for the better, but where its impacts are less positive we will do all we can to provide the right help and assistance.”

HS2 Action Alliance director Hilary Wharf said. “Today’s announcement means people may well go to their graves having been locked into homes made unsaleable by HS2.

“That the Department for Transport still proposes to consult on an extreme-needs-based, long-term scheme shuts out most people from getting property compensation for the loss of property value they have been suffering since March 2010 is an act of inhumanity. Just re-naming it ‘Need to Sell’ makes it no better.”

She said HS2AA had estimated that the net cost of loss of property value on Phase 1 and 2 was £12 billion while HS2 Ltd “has to date been budgeting to spend a fraction of this - just £2.5 billion - in compensating affected individuals and purchasing land for building the railway”.

Ms Wharf said not extending the 120-metre zone in rural areas in which they will purchase properties was “entirely unjust” while other aspects of today’s announcement were “derisory and disappointing”.